Providers: Sell ambulation to oxygen referral sources

Monday, October 31, 2005

Regardless of modality, patient ambulation is the main therapeutic benefit with portable oxygen systems and respiratory providers should strongly emphasize that with prescribing physicians, oxygen manufacturers advise.
While pulmonologists and cardiologists are generally familiar with the advantages of ambulation and high-tech portable devices, general practitioners write a lot of oxygen prescriptions and may be looking for detailed insight from the HME community on portable oxygen system technology. Therefore, the crux of the provider's message should be how portable oxygen gives patients independence, and as a result, better physical and psychological health, oxygen vendors say.
"Physicians are looking to providers for guidance on these systems," said Joe Priest, president of Buffalo, N.Y.-based AirSep.
Referring physicians - most notably GPs - are in the driver's seat when shopping for providers because they are such an in-demand commodity among medical sales reps. Just getting past the waiting room gauntlet can be a tremendous challenge, and those lucky enough to make contact better have a well-prepared presentation, Priest said.
"You have to show them what value you bring," he said.
Respiratory providers that offer portable oxygen systems are an integral part of each patient's care plan and need to get more involved with physicians, Priest said. Demonstrating clinical services, portable oxygen's efficacy performance and mapping out care protocols are all persuasive factors in influencing the physician's referral choice.
"Articulate how you can help physicians by being their eyes and ears in the patient's home," he said. "Physicians want a partner. You are making house calls for them. You can give physicians the feedback they need to make the equipment choice that
is most appropriate."
Indeed, GPs are the most sought-after referral source for oxygen equipment despite the fact that pulmonologists are more visible, added Bob Fary, vice president of sales for Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Inogen.
"Pulmonologists are much more likely to be aware of what's available, but the lion's share of prescriptions comes from GPs," he said. "Therapeutic oxygen equipment isn't like a drug where you can just drop off samples for the doctor. There is an educational component to this."
Making a convincing presentation means also steering physicians toward the most appropriate modality, which can be tough, Fary said.
"If a physician orders a particular brand that the provider doesn't carry, what does the provider do?" he asked rhetorically. "Until the GP community considers this issue to be important enough to warrant their undivided attention, it could be problematic. The payers also need to realize the benefits of ambulation and push for it. They could make a difference."
To be sure, physicians need to know as many options as possible when it comes to portable systems, and the respiratory therapist is best-suited to make that recommendation, said Tom Williams, managing director of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Strategic Dynamics.
"Let the RT recommend which system is best - that's what they do in the hospital every day," he said. "It is up to the physician to agree or disagree and if they want only [a particular brand], so be it. But provide your input; most physicians welcome having the differences explained to them."
Vendors like St. Louis-based The Respiratory Group have fashioned a cluster of marketing materials designed to give physicians an overview of portable oxygen's benefits, as well as specifics about its liquid ultralight portable. It includes brochures that providers can customize with their logo, spec sheets and a flip chart that details the features of the liquid portable system.
"All our resources are focused on direct marketing to referring physicians, and we give providers the tools," said Diane Ayer, operations manager.
St. Louis-based Responsive Respiratory conducted some research on the economic aspects of the portable modalities and generated some numbers that providers can show physicians in their presentations. For instance, the company's study determined that the average cost per patient for a liquid system is $2,000, while the average cost for a composite cylinder (carbon and aluminum) system is $700.
"This also gives the RT a reason to go to the referral source," said president Tom Bannon. "We did the research. Let the physician view the data and make a decision."
The best way to evaluate which system is most appropriate for each patient is to look at the three levels of the patient's environment - inside and outside the home and travel, Williams said. Determine how much time is spent in each and make the decision accordingly, he said.


Category: Portable oxygen

Key referral sources:

- Cadiologists, pulmonologist, general practitioners, internal medical practitioners, oncologists

Key marketing techniques:

- Ambulation - Promote its benefits to physicians, especially general practitioners who are the least familiar with the new technology and who actually write the most prescriptions.
- Marketing materials - Provide them to physicians in order to give them a thorough explanation of each system's functions and capabilities.
- Care partner - Offer to become the physicians' care partner, serving as the "eyes and ears" in the home to determine which modality may be most suitable.